Great Barrington — Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington is now two new restaurants: Preservation Society and P.S. Italian Bistro & Charcuterie. Christophe Jalbert, a native of Portland, Maine, bought the business several weeks ago from Lester Blumenthal, who had opened Route 7 Grill several years back.
Jalbert was attracted to the Berkshires because of its reputation as a place where chefs and their clientele honor local ingredients. “There is a unique community in the Berkshires,” says Jalbert. He did not know anyone here, but he did know that there was a strong focus on sourcing food locally. “There were a lot of skilled farmers producing what I want to cook with,” he says.
Chef Jalbert has a solid cooking history. He owned bistros in Bar Harbor and Seal Harbor, Maine. Although they were successful, he felt he needed some travel experience to round out his cooking skills, so he became a private chef for eight years for a family that had homes in Newport, R.I. and New York City. But eventually he wanted to be part of a restaurant again, and that’s when he came to the Berkshires to work with Blumenthal 18 months ago.
In a short time, Jalbert not only developed solid relationships with 40 or more farmers in the area, but the people who come to his restaurants expect locally grown food prepared to show off its high quality.
Even in winter, Jalbert creates tasting menus daily. “It’s sort of a surprise every day,” he says, clearly enjoying the creation of a surprise that graces each day’s menu.
On the Preservation Society menu on a recent night, there was air dried Spanish chorizo from Paisley Farm (a CSA farm in Tivoli, N.Y.), chicken liver pate from Abair Farm (Brimfield), bresaola from Tilldale Farm (Hoosick, N.Y.), pig liver from Blue Hill Farm (Monterey), Merguez sausage from Mayflower Farm (Egremont), and jambon sec from Flying Pigs Farm (Shushan, N.Y.). Oh, and the vegetable ratatouille lasagna is topped with smoked tomato sauce from Freddy Friedman’s local San Marzano tomatoes from his farm in Southfield.
The menu is not the only thing that has changed with his ownership of the former Route 7 Grill. Jalbert found that the space was simply too big for the culinary environment he envisioned, so he built a wall to create two smaller spaces. P.S. Italian Bistro occupies the north side of the building, and Preservation Society is the south side. They represent the two sides of the food imagery he prefers to the barbecue that was the trademark of Route 7 Grill.
Jalbert places a high premium on local ingredients on his menus. The name “Preservation Society” is indicative of his ideals: extending the shelf life of local ingredients by pickling, preserving, and canning what he gets locally. And that’s how he is able to serve local ingredients in the dead of winter.
Although Jalbert buys most of the food he prepares, he has a small vegetable garden on the premises that he plans to expand. “In general, though, I’m happy to leave the growing to the skilled farmers,” he says. He buys from about forty different farms from the southern Berkshires up to Williamstown, and over to the westernmost part of New York state.
Jalbert develops his menus with influence from local farmers. The convenience of email allows Jalbert and the farmers to communicate on a daily basis, learning what’s fresh and available. And he thinks it is important to name the farmers on his menus.
Jalbert credits Portland restaurateur Sam Hayward for his studied pursuit of local food. More than 40 years ago Hayward went to Maine and opened two seminal restaurants specializing in local food: Fore Street and Scales. The philosophy behind Hayward’s menus influenced a legion of chefs, including Jalbert, who cultivate local farmers because they know that’s where they get the best flavor.
Chef Jalbert makes judicious use of his root cellar to extend the local season for food as long as possible. “Because I have a root cellar, I can serve pickled ramps in winter,” he says, and sure enough, they are. The “preserves” in Preservation Society’s menus include charcuterie, sausages, patés, hams, vegetables, and sauces.
P.S. and Preservation Society are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Saturday night is the busiest time, so making a reservation is a good idea.